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All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood Hardcover – January 28, 2014


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Author One-on-One: Jennifer Senior and Curtis Sittenfeld

Jennifer SeniorCurtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld is the best-selling author of Sisterland and American Wife.

Curtis Sittenfeld: As a journalist, you’ve written about a wide range of topics, including pop culture and politics, so I’m wondering why parenthood is the subject that elicited a book from you.

Jennifer Senior: You’re right, and if this were a parenting book, it wouldn’t even occupy the same hemisphere as the other pieces I’ve done. (Confession: I have purchased exactly one parenting book in my lifetime.) But I consider this a social science book, and I’ve done plenty of social science stories over the years: About the psychological effects of high school on our adult years; about loneliness and cities; about burnout; about our obsession with happiness. Also, I think of this book as a series of mini-ethnographies—portraits of how American families live now—and that comes pretty naturally, having been an anthro major. Even when I wrote about the Senate, which used to be often, I treated it as an other-planetary universe with its own alien customs.

CS: This book has its origins in a much-buzzed-about New York magazine cover story. In that article but not in the book, you discussed your own experiences as a parent. Why didn’t you include yourself in the book? Can you share a bit about your family?

JS: So funny: I mentioned my own experience in just two paragraphs of that magazine story, but because they were the first two paragraphs, people misremember it as part-memoir. The only reason I did so – both early in the magazine story and in this book — was to alert readers that I, too, was a parent. But the specifics of my own story seem irrelevant, and too idiosyncratic from which to generalize. It’s far better to look at the full spectrum of social science research about families, and to talk to a wide variety of parents.

For the record, though: My husband and I have one six-year-old son, and my husband has two grown kids from a previous marriage. I entered their lives when they were adolescents, which made me realize how complicated that period was for parents.

CS: One of the book’s fascinating tidbits is the implication that parents have friction with teens in some sense because the parents are jealous.

JS: Jealousy is only a small part of it. (Though I’m amazed by Laurence Steinberg’s finding that fathers become depressed when their teenage sons start to date.) What generally seems to happen is that adolescents make their parents take stock of every life choice they’ve ever made—their marriages and careers especially. Teenagers can be so critical and rejecting that they expose all the holes in their parents’ lives: Now that my kid’s dispensed with me, all I have is my marriage and my job, and I’m not thrilled with either.

CS:In your marriage chapter, you suggest at one point that many moms would be better off being more like dads. Can you explain what you mean?

JS:I only mean this in the sense that fathers seem less frantically perfectionist about their parenting than mothers do, probably because they aren’t burdened by the same unattainable cultural ideals (real or fictional—Tiger Mom or June Cleaver.) It’s a crude generalization, yes, and of course there are exceptions. But both conversations and hard data make it clear that fathers feel much less pressure to play with their children during every free moment, and they’re much quicker to claim their right to free time. If mothers did the same, one wonders what would happen—Glad you’re back from that bike ride, now I’m going to the gym! It’s possible domestic divisions of labor would shift a little in their favor.

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, February 2014: Reading Jennifer Senior’s lively and weirdly comforting All Joy and No Fun was like attending the self-help group for beleaguered parents that I never knew I needed. (“Hi, my name is Neal, and I’m a parent-aholic…”) Far afield from the headline-grabbing shockers in books like Tiger Mom, this is a thoughtful and deeply researched look at the reality of modern day parenthood: we love our kids, and they make us crazy, and it’s all our fault. The book grew from Senior’s eye-raising New York magazine piece, in which she explored the dark side of parenting--the depression, the marital woes, the loss of self-worth. Sure, raising kids is, ultimately, deeply rewarding. But on a day to day basis? Sometimes a bummer. Parenthood has changed a lot since World War II, as more women entered the workforce, dads became more engaged in child rearing, and an “asymmetrical” parent-child relationship evolved. We’re doing more for our kids, but they’re doing less for us. “Children went from being our employees to our bosses,” Senior writes. If you want to be a better parent--or, maybe more importantly, to feel better about the parent you’ve become--you need this book. And, probably, a nap. --Neal Thompson
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; F First Edition edition (January 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062072226
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062072221
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jennifer Senior is a contributing editor at New York magazine, where she writes profiles and cover stories about politics, social science, and mental health. Her work has been anthologized four times in THE BEST AMERICAN POLITICAL WRITING, and she's been a frequent guest on NPR and numerous television programs, including Charlie Rose, The Chris Matthews Show, Morning Joe, Washington Journal, Anderson Cooper 360, GMA, and Today. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood is her first book. It spent six weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and appeared on the Washington Post, LA Times, Boston Globe, SF Chronicle, and Denver Post Best Seller lists as well. In March of 2014, she spoke both at TED's annual conference (main stage, link's here: http://www.ted.com/talks/jennifer_senior_for_parents_happiness_is_a_very_high_bar) and at the Sydney Opera House. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her son.

Customer Reviews

The book is well written.
InfoFish
This book has the courage to say things that most parents know all to well but everyone is afraid to talk about.
Doctor Dad
I highly recommend this book to parents of kids of all ages.
Rachel McElhany

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

204 of 214 people found the following review helpful By Ladybug TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Yes, it's one of the best books I've ever read about parenting--and, ironically, it isn't even about parenting. At least not specifically. Senior makes it very clear in her introduction that this is more a book about the history and changing definition of what it means to be a parent, rather than a book of parenting advice. She warns the reader that she will have to sift and sort through the information given in order to find that "advice," but, honestly, I found so much here that will influence my future parenting style and decisions.

For example, it was interesting to learn that parenting as we know it is a relatively new concept. It wasn't until after World War II, when the US began enacting child labor laws, that "childhood" came into existence. Before then, our kids were expected to work, contribute, or be invisible. Once we started protecting them more, though, and requiring less and less of them, our kids became, as Senior somewhat playfully puts it, useless. This uselessness (or maybe purposelessness is a gentler word?) has kind of snowballed over time and led to a whole host of other issues, including bored and unchallenged teenagers and parents who have made it their jobs to fill in their toddlers' spare time with hosts of educational, time-consuming, character-building activities. As kids have become more useless, their restlessness has grown--and parents have taken on the burden of relieving this restlessness.

In short, one of the lessons I am taking away from this book is that my kids (ages 4 and 2) need to be challenged!--and not necessarily through intense or chaotic play dates and heavily-managed planned activities. Instead, I'm focusing on increasing their responsibilities when it comes to taking care of themselves and our house.
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90 of 103 people found the following review helpful By InfoFish on November 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I started reading this book and HATED it. It made my heart rate rocket and it was so frustrating because I kept looking for solutions to the problems of being overwhelmed, under-equipped, exhausted and wondering "is this all there is?" But by the end of the book my opinion totally changed. We are all in this parenthood thing and it is no fun and it is exhausting and overwhelming. And in the end we are left remembering mostly the joy and connections. Children give structure and meaning to our lives. And that does not come cheaply (emotionally and physically and mentally and monetarily)! Particularly poignant was the story of the grandma with Cam - she adopts her daughter's baby boy when her daughter passes. I am not going to give away this story, but in relating it to one of my other mom friends at work (who is exhausted, overwhelmed, rinse and repeat) I started crying - right there at work. The book is well written. Crazy well written. Just don't look for solutions to the overwhelm.
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65 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Jojoleb VINE VOICE on February 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
All Joy and No Fun, by Jennifer Senior, is a different kind of book about parenting. There are many how-to books about parenting: how to discipline our children, how to speak to our children, how to raise our children to be successes... the list goes on. But there are almost no books about parents.

By talking directly to parents and carefully reviewing the existing scientific literature, Senior has crafted an incredibly insightful and easily accessible book about what happens to parents as a result of parenting.

Senior takes us through the various stages of parenting: planning, early childhood, the middle school years, and adolescence, making pointed and careful observations about how having children changes us, burdens us, and truly enriches our lives.

Senior makes no bones about who she is surveying: her book is strictly directed towards middle class parents. She doesn't discuss the upper crust, who can spend the big bucks outsourcing whatever painful parts of parenting they wish to eschew. She also doesn't discuss poorer parents, where financial burdens of existence may supersede many parenting issues in day-to-day life.

Modern, middle class parenting was born sometime in the 1940s. Between 1890 and 1920, child labor was banned, and the seeds of the era of the 'useless child' were planted. Since that time, children have been been transformed from unsentimental cogs in the family machine to cherished commodities that contribute little to a family's bottom line. Feeding, clothing, educating, and caring for our children places incredible emotional and monetary strain on parents and we have to do this with little overall contribution to the family effort from the children themselves.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Jen G. on February 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is worth reading if only to validate what many parents are already feeling and may or may not now. It does feel good reading this knowing one is not alone. However, it still felt at the end that I was waiting for that final enlightenment or something to help me through as a parent. All the case studies and surveys were interesting but it left me feeling like, ok now what???
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34 of 43 people found the following review helpful By K. Bortz VINE VOICE on November 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As billed on the cover, this is the first book about the impact that children have on their parents. As Jennifer Senior points out, throughout history kids happened immediately after marriage, but in current society the ability to plan pregnancies has let married couples create an entire life for themselves prior to children. It's the loss of this life that creates and immediate impact once kids arrive.

The book is really engagingly written and covers the various age ranges of childhood - newborns/toddlers, elementary school, preteen, teenage. There's also a discussion on the instituion of marriage that is woven into the different sections. Three types of intermingled narratives are used to great effect, frequently on the same page - case studies, where the author has observed families as they raise, educate, feed, play with and bring up their children; technical/research studies, where the author summarizes the results of various psychological papers and research on the various topics; and her own editorializing.

While not funny, the narrative is occasionally wry - particularly when the author is editorializing. But it is well put together and is an easy read. Did I learn anything? Well, it's not like a "how to" book (although there are some instances where discussions of how parents interact with each other or their children made me think "Oh, I should (or should not) do that"). What makes this book special is that I read it and, nearly on every page, could empathize with what was being said. Every tantrum, every disagreement, every tired evening, I'd been through it before. And it made me realize that as parents we are not the only ones going through all of this. It's the nature of being a parent, and we are not alone.
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